by Miriam

At our morning meeting today, we were chatting about query letters and how to help authors who contact us (and other agents) make the best first impression possible. As we’ve mentioned many times on this blog, crafting a successful query letter is by no means an exact science. In some instances we’re hard pressed to account for our decision to request one project over another based on the relative merits of their query letters. Sometimes, I think that the process of elimination is a better way of communicating what works. Maybe by telling you what elements of your query letter turn us agent types off you might avoid having your very worthy book rejected before it’s even seen.

One of the things that makes me (and others here) crazy is self-hype that’s hard to verify or quantify. If we can’t find that award or publication you mention on Google and we can’t track that bestselling novel on Bookscan or even find it on Amazon, it should definitely not find its way into your query letter. Eric, over at Pimp My Novel has a very useful post about when and how to mention awards and accomplishments when querying agents. On a personal note, I’d rather have you tell me something fascinating that you’ve done that’s in no way related to book publishing–e.g., you wrestle alligators as a hobby–but that makes me look at your letter twice than to read about obscure literary accomplishments, real or imagined.

7 Responses to Self-hype

  1. Donna Gambale says:

    Great advice. Janet Reid gave a query letter workshop this past weekend and said almost the exact same thing. And I still don't get why people lie/exaggerate… I mean, Google exists!

  2. Amanda J. says:

    Always good to hear what agents think and want! Thanks for the advice!

  3. Haste yee back ;-) says:

    Fantastic TRUE STORY… long time ago, fishing over a bed of spawning bluegill, I lost a fish due to a bad knot tie (my fault). So, I took another hook, same kind, gold long shank #10 out of the package, retied and baited, threw it out and caught the fish I'd just lost through the EYE of the previous lost gold long shank #10 hook!

    NOW will you rep me?

    Haste yee back 😉

  4. Robert Kent, of Robertkent.net fame says:

    I recently beat Assassin’s Creed 2 on Xbox 360. Does that count as an interesting achievement unrelated to writing? Keep in mind; this is a particularly challenging video game. Not everyone can beat it, not even most people. Also, I have read all seven Harry Potter novels. Shall I expect your offer of representation within one hour or two? Sigh.

  5. D. Antone says:

    Great advice. I remember sitting down to write my first query. I struggled with what (if anything) I should say about myself. I had no awards or publications to speak of, so I wrote a sentence or two about the part of my life experience that inspired my novel. The novel is about a handicapped boy who escapes his wheelchair. I grew up with two handicapped brothers who were the inspiration for the book.

    What that something worth mentioning?

  6. DGLM says:

    Haste Yee Back and Robert, you should try sending a query and see what happens. D. Antone, yes, your mention of growing up with handicapped brothers would make me take a second look, especially because it ties in to the themes of the novel.

  7. Shannon says:

    Oh dear, now I'm nervous. My two writing credits include a short story publication in DRAGON magazine (when it was still a print publication)–I think this is a pretty well-known fantasy publication, but I published under my maiden name, so an agent trying to check up on my might not be able to find me in the archives. My other credit is a win in a short-story contest that does come up on Google, and some of the winners' names are even listed, but mine isn't. Are agents going to think I'm lying about these credits? Will my query be trashed? Thank you so much for your advice–nervous writers need to know!

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